By  on April 7, 2009

The United Nations is getting down to earth.

In an effort to improve the world’s supply of natural resources, the U.N. has declared 2009 the International Year of Natural Fibers.

The designation is meant not only to protect the environment, but also to safeguard the communities that produce vegetal fibers like jute, flax and ramie, as well as camel hair and cashmere. Such fibers have seen their market share cut by the rise of synthetic fibers over the last half-century.

To help reverse that trend, the U.N. is aiming to ensure that producers have the technology and knowledge to produce fibers of the highest quality. In Peru, for example, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, is working with farmers to improve their alpaca production, which has suffered due to years of bulk trading.

The FAO is also working to cut the amount of pesticides used by farmers on crops such as cotton, which not only reduces negative environmental impact, but helps farmers by minimizing dependence on expensive chemicals.

Other goals include raising public awareness and encouraging public policy with a focus on the success of niche markets, research and development for new applications of the versatile fibers and the encouragement of cooperation among industry groups. Events scheduled for 2009 include displays and fashion shows as well as conferences, such as the meetings held at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York on cotton sustainability, and at the Gaston College Textile Technology Center in Belmont, N.C., on applications for alpaca, both held earlier this month.

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